They handed him the red and white jersey, and he pulled it over his head.
“Welcome,” they said, “to the Detroit Red Wings.” Jimmy Carson grinned and posed for cameras. Next to him, general manager Jimmy Devellano was beaming. On the other side, coach Jacques Demers flashed a huge smile, the kind of smile you get when a police officer tells you, “It’s all a misunderstanding, sir. You’re free to go.”
Relief. Joy. Everyone gets what they wanted. And everyone buries their mistakes. That’s really what this trade was about, you know, ditching the mistakes. Oh sure, the Wings are glad to get a 50-goal scorer. (“He’s a superstar,” Demers said.) And sure, Carson, all of 21 and already on his third NHL roster, is thrilled to be playing, finally, for his hometown heroes. “It’s my dream since I was a kid.”
But this whole deal — Carson, Kevin McClelland and a draft choice from Edmonton for Petr Klima, Adam Graves, Joe Murphy and Jeff Sharples, one of the worst-kept secrets in recent memory; really, I don’t know why hockey people try to keep things quiet, they’re so bad at it — was largely about mistakes:
1) “My mistake,” Devellano admits, made three years ago, drafting Murphy instead of Carson.
2) A mistake Edmonton made in expecting Carson to be another Wayne Gretzky.
3) A five-year mistake entitled “Petr Does Detroit.” Or, solemnly put: Freedom Goes Haywire.
Klima? Enough already
Let’s begin with the last one — the departure of Petr Klima. He was reportedly upset with the Wings and was quoted Thursday by a local writer as complaining that “I defected for this team.”
Whoa. Wasn’t it Klima who, back in 1985, at the moment of defection in the Bavarian forest — even as Detroit officials looked over their shoulders — suddenly asked to review the money arrangements?
And when he got to America, the first thing he did was rush out and buy a nice, fancy sports car.
And in the months that followed, he visited as many bars as he could, and, despite his Czech girlfriend, did not hesitate to cozy up to plenty of American cuties.
Petr Klima didn’t defect for the Red Wings. He came here for the good life. Plain and simple. He acted often like a spoiled child, he drove his coach crazy, he seemed to believe rules were made for others, not him. Breaking curfew. Drunken driving. One night, when a cop flashed the lights in his rearview mirror, Klima tried to duck low and switch places with his female companion so she would take the drop, not him.
For five years, the Wings paid this guy and hoped he would mature. They offered treatment centers. Second chances. The whole annoying laundry list of chances that star athletes are given these days. And yet, suddenly, when trade talks surface, he reverts to a scared, suffering foreigner. “I defected for this team.” Come on, Petr. You want to play in America? You want that nice fat salary? These are the rules. Talk to Brent Ashton about being traded, or Tony McKegney. They never caused trouble for their teams. And they’ve been bounced like rubber balls.
“Are you relieved Klima is gone?” I asked Demers.
He sighed. He shrugged. “It was hard,” he said.
Carson: From blue to Red
Enough. The Wings were hardly faultless with Klima. They let their greed for victory cloud their judgment. But they gave him enough chances. It’s a privilege to live in America, not a carnival ride. And he’s Canada’s headache now.
Which brings us to Carson, who wanted out of Canada as much as Klima does today. It’s ironic that Carson could have been a Red Wing in 1986, if Detroit had taken him instead of Murphy with their No. 1 draft pick.
Instead, Carson went to LA, where he was happy, but got traded to Edmonton, where he was blue. Management there mistakenly figured he and other Kings could replace a legend. Oilers fans, apparently, didn’t make it any easier.
“He’s no Gretzky,” they would mumble. Pressure. Foreign country. He was just a kid.
Finally, almost three weeks ago, Carson walked out. Quit. And while some people say he welshed, the fact is, he stopped taking Edmonton’s money. In that way, he’s no different than any of us who quit a job.
So Edmonton needed to move him. And the Wings jumped at the chance. They gave up Murphy and Graves, both of whom they said they were “thrilled” to get in 1986, for a player they could have had the whole time. Sports. Go figure.
And Carson slipped the jersey over his head. Will he fit in with the Wings? Who knows? Cynics say he’ll never score the way he used to, sharing “star” time with Steve Yzerman. They’ll say his defense is suspect, and the Wings need defense. And you know what? If he puts the puck in the net, nobody will care. Hockey games are won, 3-2 and 4-3. It only takes a goal or two.
“I just wanted to be happy,” Carson said.
“We needed changes on this team,” Demers said.
“The deal is done,” Devellano said.
And so it is. Funny the way this works, the sports business. Edmonton had a problem. Detroit had a problem. And so they swapped problems and everyone is smiling.
And praying the other guy’s mistakes don’t come back to haunt them.